BMX bike champion Matt Wilhelm comes to Bethany Lutheran School with his array of bike stunts and a clear anti-bullying message.

By: Linda Fox / Naperville Patch

Matt Wilhelm speaking about bullying, kindness, and respect at Bethany Lutheran School in Naperville, IL.
Matt Wilhelm speaking about bullying, kindness, and respect at Bethany Lutheran School in Naperville, IL.

Bethany Lutheran School kicked off Lutheran Schools Week 2016 with an inspirational assembly by Naperville’s own Matt Wilhelm. Matt has performed his BMX bike stunts and tricks on America’s Got Talent as well as earning many different awards including 3 X-Games medals and 2 National Championships. The students were in awe as he performed his amazing array of bike tricks, such as the Tornado Spin, Spiderman, and Tail Whip.

Even more importantly, however, Matt shared his story of how he was bullied as a child. He was called “Ears” and was picked on for being skinny and different. As Matt recalls, he almost lost his bike once because a group of bullies pushed him down a dirt ramp.

“Everybody stood there and watched as the bullies continued to push, kick, threaten, and verbally attack me. Then, somebody said, ‘Teach that punk a lesson,’ and they pushed me down the hill. I didn’t even stand a chance. Did it hurt? Of course it did, but what hurt worse was seeing everyone else laughing, pointing their fingers. That hurt worse than breaking six bones.”

Matt went on to tell the students that his life changed when finally, about a week later, one boy asked him to ride together. Together they formed a special bond with their shared love of biking. To Matt, this boy became his hero.

“I’m asking you today to be that one person. If you see someone being picked on or pushed around, even called a name like ‘Ears,’ don’t laugh or stand around with your cool friends. Have the courage to speak up. You can be somebody’s hero and be somebody’s Batman. Your words are powerful.”

This message ties in perfectly with what students are taught at Bethany through a program called Second Step. Second Step is a systematic approach through research-based music, videos, and take-home activities that teach the social and emotional skills students need to be successful. By focusing on these skills and the behavioral outcomes, students are able to work on skills such as paying better attention, remembering directions, managing emotions, solving problems, making friends, avoiding peer pressure, and making good choices.

One of the tenets of Second Step is to teach students how to distinguish between peer conflict and bullying and what to do if they see one of their classmates, or if the student directly, feels bullied. According to Assistant Principal Erin Dunwell, “Matt’s message perfectly reflected what our students have already learned in class- that each person is special and deserves to be treated with respect.” When a few of the 8th grade students were asked how they liked the presentation, they said, “It was awesome! It gave us a real life situation of what we’ve already learned through Second Step,” and “It built us a better foundation and understanding of what we’ve learned in class about not bullying.”

Original article can be found here: Naperville Patch

Matt Wilhelm teaching a student a trick during the show at Bethany Lutheran School in Naperville.
Matt Wilhelm teaching a student a trick during the show.